A pattern is developing in this Stanley Cup first-round series – namely, that there is no pattern except for the one where the San Jose Sharks never score.
This, I think we can all agree, is a problem for them.
For the second time in three nights, the Sharks started quickly, then watched the Oilers catch up, then pass, and finally win, this time 1-0 on Zack Kassian's goal with 9:15 to play.
Now you won’t need a lot of analysis of metric parsing to understand why that is not good for the local shinnyists, but in a series that has not been dominated or even controlled by the best players on either team, Edmonton’s youth and initiative is beginning to show its superior mettle.
With this caveat: Momentum in hockey travels easily within games, but does not transport game to game, so as Joe Thornton explained, “These (two losses) are just two different games. They were all over us the other night, but this was just a 1-0 playoff game.”
In that way, his explanation works. The game turned only on Edmonton third liner Kassian’s gift to the No-Overtime-Fun Consortium, accepting an overambitious pass from the deep right corner by San Jose defenseman David Schlemko and beating Martin Jones cleanly over his glove.
Other than that, it was the first evenly-played game of a series that still has not yet taken form. San Jose started slowly in Game 1 and then crushed the Oilers for the last two periods and the overtime, Edmonton owned Game 2, and Game 3 was a fairly formless affair with few serious shifts in fortune for either side.
Thornton played on his wonky knee but not materially affect the run of play, nor did Logan Couture’s abandonment of his facemask make him more noticeably intrepid. Martin Jones has been playoff-fine in goal for San Jose, but Edmonton’s Cam Talbot has been every bit his equal, thus negating one of the Sharks’ strengths from a season ago.
More troubling for the Sharks, though, is the fact that they have not punished the Oilers for the minimal contributions of the Connor McDavid line. Sunday, Oilers head coach Todd McLellan dropped McDavid’s right wing, Leon Draisaitl, to the third line with Kassian and Mark Letestu to try to kickstart his motor, and Patrick Maroon has been little in evidence on McDavid’s left.
So now they are down 2-1 with Game 4 Tuesday night. The raw numbers say that teams up 2-1 win 70 percent of the series, but the numbers in this series have been largely illusory when it comes to making sweeping judgments. Edmonton has corrected an early propensity for penalties, committing only two Sunday night and allowing no shots on Talbot. Thornton’s return was supposed to fix that, but in 3:12 of 5-on-4, the Sharks won only one faceoff, couldn’t hold the zone long enough to benefit from it, and never got sufficiently organized after that to trouble Talbot.
In other words, there was frankly little to San Jose’s game other than energy, which they should have as a minimal standard for membership in the playoffs. They played hard but not decisively, physically but not to the point of gaining the run of play, and other than Schlemko’s error would still be playing now, if that’s your idea of a good time.
But it is not Peter DeBoer’s. They have three goals in three games, all in a game in which they attempted 87 shots and three periods and change and owned the Oilers like they were the Oilers of old. Since then . . .
. . . well, since then, they have played your standard first round series – some good, some bad, lots in the middle, little of it memorable. Barring a new reversal in form, or more likely, a showing of form, this series could slip away from them before they know why, or how to arrest it.
The one thing we know for certain, though, is that what you just saw has no bearing on what you are about to see, and since the Sharks were middling but goalless Sunday night, there’s no telling what Game 4 may bring.
Or not. Depending on whether it does. There, I think we’ve covered all the possibilities without pointing to any one in particular. Just like this series.